Archive for the 'instrument' Category

Object: Sarangi


E/1954/9/3 a-b
Sarangi musical instrument
Asia: India
Early 20th Century
Materials: wood, metal, leather, sinew

This sarangi is a 26-stringed musical instrument made of dark stained cedar wood with a long wide neck and a short wide body. It has a white leather sounding platform and metal and gut strings. It is meant to be played with the accompanying bow, and it traditionally was used in Hindu classical music. This instrument has multiple internal chambers, typically 3-4 hollow chambers that help perpetuate the sound.

Musical tradition is very important in India. Children can learn musical tradition from a young age, becoming an apprentice to a master player. These musicians are respected in the broad public community as well as the religious sector.

The sarangi has been in India for as long as musical traditions have been present in the region. The instrument has deep-rooted cultural and religious significance. For instance, the sarangi is valuable to the Indian tradition of meditation, as its sound induces human concentration and religious thought. Vocal harmonies are extremely important in Hindu prayer in some regions of India, and the sound produced by the sarangi complements the human voice during religious performances, creating a more complete sound of praise.

While it is possible to make a sarangi out of gourds, the stringed instrument is traditionally crafted from cedar wood. The sarangi is analogous to the Western violin, as it is also a stringed and bowed instrument. One of the biggest and most obvious differences between the sarangi and the Western violin are the numbers of strings. The Indian sarangi usually contains thirty five to thirty seven strings (even though the example from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History only has 26 strings) while the Western Classical violin contains only four strings. This instrument can be played standing up, but traditionally, the sarangi is played while sitting down on the ground cross-legged.

To learn more about the sarangi, take a look at this interesting video:

[Brady Leach]


The Indian Sarangi: Sound of Affect, Site of Contest, Regula Burckhart Qureshi Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 29 (1997), pp. 1-38

Napier, John. “The Distribution Of Authority In The Performance Of North Indian Vocal Music.” Ethnomusicology Forum 16.2 (2007): 271-301. Music Index.


Object: ‘Uli ‘Uli (Gourd Rattle)

Hawaii, United States of America
Materials: Gourd, Feathers, Plant Material

An‘Uli ‘Uli is made from either a hollowed and dried gourd, or from a coconut shell and features colorful feathers on the handle.  Gourd rattles like these are made by people who used them for Hula ceremonies and performances.  The Hula is a highly regarded part of Hawai’ian culture and life; Hula creates continuity for history and tradition.  After American colonization of the Hawai’ian islands, leadership positions began to resemble kings’ courts of Europe, and Hulas were a way to showcase prestige.  Kings and Queens, such as King Kamehameha and Queen Liliuokalani, would hire groups from Halau Hulas, or Hula Schools, from surrounding communities to perform for the courts.

A mele, or chant, is a very important part of the Hula tradition, but an equally significant part is the movements of the body and hand gestures during the song.  Each hand gesture and hip sway contributes meaning to the song and helps in the process of transmitting a story.  Some mele’s are about the reign of kings and queens throughout time, some are about cultural history. Topics include how Hawai’ians came to occupy the islands and gods and goddess, such as Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes.

There are several other implements used to enhance the sound of a mele, including the Ili ‘Ili, the Puili, and the Kala’au. In the past, these implements were all found or made by hand by the person who would be performing with it. Today there is a market for these types of items as souvenirs for tourists, or for amateur and journeyman level performances.

A modern revival of the Hula tradition began in the 1960s.  This renaissance of Hawai’ian culture has helped tourism commerce.  A festival celebrating the Hula tradition called Merrie Monarch Festival is held each year in Hilo, Hawai’i.  The Merrie Monarch Festival was a way to bring Hawai’ians together, and also served as a way to promote tourism.  Today, Halau Hula groups travel from as far as Japan and California to compete and to share.  There have been many successful attempts at creating continuity of the Hawai’ian culture beyond the islands, as we hear in this NPR interview. Here is a link to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s Ethnology Database, which is located in Honolulu, HI. It has a broad and expanding collection of all things Hawai’ian and Hula related.Check out this video which exemplifies the use of the ‘uli ‘uli in a ‘Wahine Kahiko’ or Womens’ Traditional Style Hula:

Work Cited

Architect of the Capital.
2014  Explore Capital Hill: Kamehameha i.

My Hero.
2010  Women Heros: Liliuokalani.

National Public Radio
2003  All Things Considered.

[Emily McKenzi]

Object: Pueblo Drum

Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, United States of America
Date: early 1900s
Materials: cottonwood, rawhide, pigment

This object is a drum that was crafted in a Pueblo community sometime around the beginning of the 20th century. The Pueblo people represent a long tradition of indigenous presence in the Southwestern area of the United States. This drum has strong resemblance to those built by the Cochiti Pueblo community in New Mexico, as pictured on their official seal. Similar drums can be found in the collections of other museums like the NMAI Smithsonian and the University of South Dakota National Music Museum.

Pueblo drums come in many shapes and sizes, from small hand drums to enormous floor drums. Pueblo drums are crafted by hand, giving each drum a unique form and sound. This double-headed drum is of a medium size and can be held by a rawhide cord handle near the top of the drum’s body. This drum is crafted from a hollowed log of soft wood, most likely cottonwood or aspen. Hide, typically from deer, bison, or cow, is processed into rawhide for the drumheads. The animal hide is soaked, stretched, and cut to fit tightly over the ends of the hollowed base. Holes are punched into the edges of the hide and rawhide cord connects the two heads. Pigments are often added to the body of the drum and the colors are symbolic, typically representing a force of nature.

The Southwest has a long-standing history of embracing the significance of rhythm. Song and dance, like the Cochiti Eagle Dance, are culturally monumental to the Pueblo community. The beat of the drum, which gives cadence to dancers, is symbolic of the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Drumbeats can be attributed to having healing powers, as they represent a unity between man and nature. Check out this video about Native American Drumming from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Work Cited

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
2007  Cochiti Pueblo.

Love To Know Corp.
2012  Aspen Trees.

Mason, Jim.
N.D.  Cottonwood. Great Plains Nature Center.

Mckosato, Harlan.
2007  Drums: Heartbeat of Mother Earth. Native: Native Peoples Magazine.

Montana Arts Council.
N.D. Indian Rawhide Drum Making.

National Music Museum.
2007  Ceremony Drum, Pueblo Nation, Arizona, 19th-early 20th century.

National Museum of the American Indian.
2014  Drum and Drum Stick.

Prindle, Tara.
1994  Cordage Technology. NativeTech Native American Cordage.

Pueblo de Cochiti.
2003  Visitors Guide.

[Cameron Benton]

Photo Quiz Answer!

Thanks to everyone who took the photo quiz last week! Now, what is this object?

drum photo quiz

Answer: A DRUM!

This is a wooden drum from Myanmar from the Ethnology collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a southeast Asian state bordered by China, Thailand, India, Laos, and Bangladesh. A drum like this is suspended by a cord around the neck and is used in a variety of traditional and modern dances.

Take a look at the following video to learn a little more about Myanmar drums:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Instrument

Ravanahatha (or Ravanhatta or Rawanhatho)
ca. 1950s
Materials: Wood, coconut shell, mother of pearl, leather

This fiddle-like instrument from India is called a Ravanahatha (or Ravanhatta or Rawanhatho). It is has a wooden body and a small coconut resonator covered in skin. There is one melody string made from horsehair, a single metal drone string and a number of sympathetic strings. The following is a video showing a Ravanahatha being played.

According to legend, this instrument was first created by the mythological figure Ravana, the primary villain in the Hindu legend Ramayana. In the legend Ravana attempted to move Mount Kailash, the home of the Hindu deity Shiva, from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka, in order to please his mother. In the process he angers Shiva and is briefly tortured by the deity. Ravana then prays for mercy and is released. In order to thank Shiva for sparing his life Ravana decided to sing for the god. To accompany his song of praise, Ravana magically creates a musical instrument, the Ravanahatha, out of one of his arms and some of his hair. Shiva is so impressed by the performance that he grants Ravana immortality. Ravanahatha are still played today and are popular with the Bhopa priest singers of Rajasthan.

Other examples of Ravanahatha can be found in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Nadsadhna Institute for Indian Music and Meditation, and others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Drum incense burner

Drum incense burner
Mexico: Chiapas
ca. 1970
Materials: ceramic, leather, plant fibers, wood

The Lacandone (or Lacandon) people of the Chiapas region of Mexico are one of the remaining tribes of Maya Indians, and are considered by some, to be the most traditional Mayan group remaining. This group of Maya live exclusively in the Laconadon rain forest of southern Mexico. In 1978 the Mexican government declared approximately 600,000 hectares of Lacandon forest a “protected zone,” and gave the land to the Lacandone people. Roughly half of this protected area is known as Montes Azules (Blue Woodlands) and is one of the largest remaining tropical rainforests in Central America. Traditionally the Lacandone engaged in a sustainable slash-and-burn form of agriculture that would utilize small areas of the forest for subsistence crops and then allow the field to remain fallow for a number of years before being returned to use. The Lacandone would supplement their diet with hunting, fishing, and gathering.

Incense plays a large part in traditional Lacandone religion, and this drum shaped incense burner was likely meant to be used as part of a Lacandone ceremony. The Lacandone worship a number of deities, many of which have their roots in ancient Maya tradition. Religious ceremonies can take place at a number of sacred sites, including natural caves, Mayan ruins, and in small house-like structures within the villages called “god houses.” These ceremonies traditionally included offerings of food and/or drink to the deities and the burning of copal incense. The incense, made of tree resins, is burned in special pottery vessels called “god pots.” These incense burners are shaped like a simple round bowl with a large human-like face modeled on the rim. While the faces of these pots are all very similar, the pots are often painted with specific colors and patterns to indicate that the pot is a representation of a specific deity.

Other examples of Lacandone pottery can be found at Williams College Museum of Art, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Milwaukee Public Museum, and others.

The following video shows a Lacandone drum similar the one at the Sam Noble Museum being used. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Mouth organ

Mouth Organ (sheng or sho)
Unknown date: prior to 1955
Materials: bamboo, lacquer, cloth, and brass

This object is a mouth organ, or sho from Japan. This type of musical instrument was developed in Japan based on a similar type of instrument, the Chinese sheng. Sho are used in Gagaku, the traditional orchestral music of the Japanese court. This type of instrument is played by blowing air into the mouthpiece or drawing air through the instrument, which circulates the air into the bamboo tubes where it vibrates tiny metal reeds. Because the instrument produces sound on both the inhale and exhale, long periods of uninterrupted sound are possible. The tubes are arranged to represent the folded wings of a phoenix, a symbol of the imperial house. It is also thought that the sho imitates the call of the phoenix.

The present day Japanese sho is thinner than the Chinese sheng, and plays at a higher octave. Traditionally sho were constructed from very old and blackened bamboo that was part of a thatched roof, directly above the kitchen in a traditional Japanese house. Today the pieces of bamboo use in the construction of a sho are still heated over a fire to eliminate moisture that could effect the sound.

The following video demonstrates how a Japanese sho is played.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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